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Belter's Health Raises Concerns

Springfield District parents question School Board member's ability to do job.

Five hundred letters have been sent to parents in the West Springfield High School pyramid expressing concern over the health of School Board member Cathy Belter (Springfield).

“We’re asking our membership if some kind of action should be taken in some fashion,” said Kevin Brown, co-chair of the West Springfield Pyramid Solutions Coalition, the group that distributed the letters.

According to Brown, the letters address “some issues we’ve seen at play” in recent months, including Belter's health and fitness to serve on the board.

Earlier this year, Belter told her fellow School Board members that she had an unspecified health problem, but that her doctor had cleared her for work at a subsequent visit.

Belter defended her position on the School Board. “Health-wise, I’m fine," she said. "I go to my schools. I visit the principals. I’ve got a good relationship with all of them.”

Others disagree, including members the West Springfield Pyramid Solutions Coalition, a vocal organization that struggled with the recent boundary study at West Springfield High School.

“It’s been questioned that Miss Belter is not fully engaged in meetings,” Brown said citing a Feb. 23, 2006 meeting during the West Springfield High School boundary study, during which a decision was made to not consider a boundary study of the West Springfield community.

“She was reading something off a teleprompter and she lost her place,” Brown said. “She was reading and appeared to be lost. She’s canceled meetings with no reason, there’s no response to phone calls or e-mails. Miss Belter has acknowledged some problems, but we need a member that’s fully informed, fully aware and fully engaged in our interests.”

The parents admit to the delicate nature of their concerns, given Belter’s long-standing history as an educator and advocate for children in Virginia and her position as an elected representative within Fairfax County

“This is a not an indictment of her,” Brown said, but conceded that “there are some who say she has to go.”

SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER Janet Oleszek (At-large) said she believes the concerns are coming from parents worried about the upcoming boundary study at South County Secondary School and partisan critics.

“This community that is pushing this ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Oleszek said. “She has devoted her entire adult life to education and making things better” for students in her district, she said.

School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon (At-large) said he believes Belter is fit to serve.

"I take her representation of her condition at face value — she has been meeting with her doctor and following his advice," Moon said. "She says she can represent her district, so I believe her."

On a few occasions, Moon said, Belter has asked other School Board members to repeat things for her. However, he said, helping his colleague has not been burdensome.

Crosspointe resident Liz Bradsher said that while she’s grateful for Belter’s advocacy on behalf of the children of Silverbrook, Halley and South County Secondary School as well as the rest of the Springfield District, she has some “concerns in terms of Mrs. Belter’s ability to serve out her term as an effective advocate.”

Other parents, however, worry that whatever medical condition Belter has is impairing her ability to perform her duties as their School Board representative.

“I’ve been at meetings with her where we’ve discussed things for 40 minutes regarding the overcrowding at Silverbrook Elementary and possible solutions to that problem,” said Crosspointe resident Joe Mancusi, the father of three elementary school-aged children. “She was asked to give comments, but they were very general ... My wife and I have e-mailed her on a bunch of occasions and never gotten a response.”

Mancusi said he has tried to engage Belter in conversation during breaks in board meetings, only to have one of her fellow Board members step in for her.

“We’re flat-out concerned,” Mancusi said. “There’s no malfeasance on her part, but she doesn’t participate in the process.”

BELTER IS “a presence,” Mancusi said, acknowledging that she attends School Board meetings and functions, but “she hasn’t shown the ability to do the work she was elected to do. She’s had an incredible career, but I’m afraid of what’s going to end up happening.”

Belter’s current term on the School Board is up for re-election in 2007, and she said she was “thinking about” running for re-election. However she had told Oleszek that she was definitely not running again.

“We trust and hope Cathy, her family, her colleagues on the School Board and (Democratic) Party representatives will handle the situation,” Bradsher said, with Belter’s health as a “top priority while acknowledging the importance of district representation.”

Oleszek called the questions over Belter’s ability to serve “totally partisan.”

“It angers me,” she said. “They’re trying to discredit someone who has worked for 30 years to make things better for the children of this county.”